Syria's Assad determined to keep fighting

2012-03-06 23:00

Beirut - Syria's president defied mounting international pressure to end the year-old crackdown on an uprising against him and said on Tuesday he was determined to go on fighting what he called "foreign-backed terrorism".

After a powerful American senator called for air strikes on Syria, President Barack Obama said unilateral US military action against President Bashar Assad's regime would be a mistake. Obama said the situation in Syria is more complicated than it was in Libya, where months of Nato air strikes helped rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi.

The United States also said it is proposing a new United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an end to violence in Syria, first by government forces and then by opposition fighters. But Russia and China, powerful allies that have blocked a Security Council resolution against Syria, made clear they were still standing by the regime in Damascus.

"The Syrian people, who have in the past managed to crush foreign plots, ... have again proven their ability to defend the nation and to build a new Syria through their determination to pursue reforms while confronting foreign-backed terrorism," President Bashar Assad said, according to state news agency Sana.

The military crackdown turned to southern Dara'a province, where the uprising began a year ago. Troops shelled a village in Dara'a and clashed with military defectors.

Activists said the military blasted a bridge and a tunnel near the border with Lebanon used as escape routes for the wounded and refugees fleeing central Homs province, an opposition stronghold which just endured a heavy, month long offensive.

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, described video that has emerged of torture victims allegedly shot secretly in the Military Hospital in Homs as "truly shocking."

The footage broadcast this week on Britain's Channel 4 shows wounded civilian victims blindfolded and chained to their hospital beds, some of them with clear torture marks on their bodies allegedly at the hands of medical staff.

The international outcry against Syria has been growing louder by the day. On Monday, US Senator John McCain called for air strikes against the country, saying the United States has a moral and strategic obligation to force out Assad and his loyalists.

Russian air defences

But Obama has resisted calls to get drawn into the turmoil in Syria to stop Assad's bloody crackdown on protesters. He told a news conference that the international community has not been able to muster a campaign against Syria like the one in Libya that ousted Gaddafi last year.

Obama's strategy has been to use sanctions and international diplomatic isolation to pressure Assad into handing over power.

The top US commander in the Middle East said the advanced air defence weapons Russia has provided to Syria would make it difficult to establish a no-fly zone there as part of an effort to help the rebellion.

James Mattis, head of US Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee it would take a significant military commitment to create even safe havens in Syria where aid could be delivered, as McCain suggested.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Assad, unlike his father and predecessor, will not escape punishment for the violence he has inflicted. Turkey and Syria, which share a border, were allies before the uprising began.

"I would like to remind Bashar Assad: his father was not made to account for what he did in this world, but his son will sooner or later account for what he did, for the massacre and the oppression," he said. "This time, the blood shed in Syrian cities will not go unpunished."

The UN says more than 7 500 people have been killed since Syria's uprising started in March 2011. Activists put the death toll at more than 8 000.

Clashes that broke out in the village of Hirak, where many dissident soldiers are believed to be operating, were some of the worst lately in Dara'a province, birthplace of the uprising to oust Assad.

Explosions shook the village as shells slammed into residential areas suspected of sheltering defectors, and even mosques were targeted, according to activists. A 15-year-old boy and five soldiers were killed, they said.

Snipers on rooftops

"The clashes are very intense and have been going on since the morning," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground.

A video posted online by activists shows what it said was the inside of the Abu Bakr al-Saddiq mosque in Hirak. There were images of rubble littering the mosque's entryway, doors blown from their frames and shattered glass covering the floor.

An unidentified man on camera says a tank fired on the mosque after town residents sought refuge there. Another video shows men, women and children fleeing a building after it appears to be hit by a shell.

Abdul-Rahman said the army was fighting a large number of army defectors in Hirak.

He said the rebels ambushed an armoured personnel carrier, killing five soldiers and wounding several. He and the Local Co-ordination Committees, another activist group, said a 15-year-old boy was killed by snipers.

Activists and residents accuse the government of deploying snipers on rooftops in many cities to terrorize anti-government protesters. But the circumstances of the teenager's death were not immediately clear. Syria has barred almost all foreign journalists and human rights groups throughout the uprising, making most events difficult to verify.

Security forces were conducting raids in pursuit of defectors and activists, making arbitrary arrests and burning homes in Hirak, the LCC said. The group reported at least 21 deaths across Syria Tuesday.

The operation in Daraa province began just days after Syrian forces captured a key rebel-held neighbourhood in central Homs province, another opposition stronghold. Government troops intensely shelled Homs for four weeks before they captured the Baba Amr neighbourhood in the city of Homs, wresting it from rebels who had held it for months.

Activists said hundreds were killed in the month long offensive, which was forcefully condemned around the world.

Observatory director Abdul-Rahman said Syrian forces blasted a bridge and a tunnel on Tuesday near the border with Lebanon used to evacuate the wounded and refugees to Lebanon from Homs province.

A top Russian diplomat also said Moscow was sticking to its position on the Syria crisis and urged the West to press the opposition to stop fighting Assad's regime. Both Russia and China fear a Security Council resolution condemning Syria could lead to military intervention against Assad, as it did last year against Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.

"We are deeply convinced that we are right," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters.

A special Chinese envoy to Syria arrived in Damascus on Tuesday to press the regime for a cease-fire. Beijing remains firmly opposed to any foreign intervention in Syria, a close ally of Iran.

Li Huaqing, a former Chinese ambassador to Syria, will meet with government officials during his two-day visit. He is not expected to meet figures from the opposition seeking to overthrow Assad.

  • Fred - 2012-03-06 23:50

    This has been his intention from day one, which he is reaffirming now. There is no room for negotiated peace with Assad there. This much is patently clear.

  • Anthony - 2012-03-07 00:10

    The BUTCHER OF DAMASCUS, will not stop killing his OPPOSITION, untill he is taken out. The assad dynasty has come to it's end, its only this criminal son still clinging onto power . But as Tayyip Erdogan says; he will pay !! HE WILL PAY , FOR SURE !! Nor Russia, nor China, will be able to stop that, as a matter of fact, they probably don't even want to stop that from happenning !!!!!!!!!!!

  • Smell - 2012-03-07 07:11

    The Middle East is the most complicated and dangerous region on Earth, where hatred borne and fostered in ancient monotheistic religions continues to burn menacingly. Syria keeps on being compared to Afghanistan, and to a lesser extent Iraq, where the US went in (I believe mainly with good intentions, and please - I know that Iraq has oil and that Afghanistan does not). And the US interventions ended up in civil strife and insurgent attacks claiming tens of thousands of lives. However, Syria is more like Iran where the West missed supporting the Green Revolution a few years back and the Iranians ended up with the ongoing rule of a brutal academically challenged leader who rigged his own election, and is now threatening world peace with the development of a nuclear weapon. Israel has unfortunately made some big mistakes in the survival mode it has been since 1948. But there are countries and cultures that hate Israel so much that they seem to be willing to end the World in nuclear conflagaration, just because they wish to deny the Jewish people governance of a small piece of arrid land which historically belonged to them. It is all so sad.

      Craig - 2012-03-07 09:40

      The Arabs/muslims biggest enemy is themselves and their total lack of respect for human life.

      Fidel - 2012-03-07 09:48

      As far as Iraq and Afghanistan are concerned, the invading western countries have never pretended they intervened there to save lives....

      Fred - 2012-03-07 16:21

      Saddam Hussein didn't invade Iran and Kuwait, causing more than ONE MILLION deaths. Al-Quaida didn't wage it's war on the freer world from Afghanistan causing HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS Of deaths with their car bombs and suicide attacks. No, it's the West. Lies and dishonesty are ultimately exposed. The people of the Middle East are freeing themselves. Fidel is holding them back and a little slow to change. :)

  • Warwick - 2012-03-07 08:56

    Muslims killing muslims, makes one think. If this is how they treat their fellow muslim brothers, imagine the vile hatred they must have for Israel and the West. Nothing will happen to Assad as long as Russia and China support him and the cowards in the West will watch and do nothing as thousands more are butchered.

      Fidel - 2012-03-07 09:44

      NATO bombed Serbia and Iraq without a UNSC resolution. If the US really wanted to intervene in Syria it would. Blaming Russia and China is a figleaf.

      Fred - 2012-03-07 16:22

      More blindness and misinformation from you Fidel.

  • Craig - 2012-03-07 09:37

    Come on Zuma, you bitched and moaned about the Americans and Europeans in Libya, what are you doing about the genocide been committed by Assad. Nothing, the same as you did in Rwanda and Burundi, if you are to incompetent to solve problems don't comment when others try.

      Fidel - 2012-03-07 09:42

      We are not in the business of telling other countries what to do. We are Africans and have a history of being dictated to by foreigners and as such abhor such practices. The SA government has used diplomatic channels to communicate its stance on Syria.

      Anthony - 2012-03-07 11:25

      ""We are Africans and have a history of being dictated to by foreigners and as such abhor such practices."" Exactly, but this is not the strength of Africa, but its weakness For African leaders to allow others on the continent, to turn into DICTATOTORS, TYRANTS AND MURDERERS is nothing to be proud off!!! For that reason, the African Charter, written by the leaders of the African UNION, is nothing but a FARCE!!!!

      Fred - 2012-03-07 16:23

      Fidel, yes, you have a history of stale, destructive pseudo-victimhood. Thankfully the people of the middle East are freeing themselves.

  • Michael - 2012-03-07 10:41

    For once I agree with Obama- it is indeed more complicated. Also it appears he is playing the dove by trying to push forward diplomacy in Iran before , horror of horrors, starting another war. If only he could keep his hawks under control, especially the leaders of the shady organizations, such as Petraus.

      Anthony - 2012-03-07 13:28

      Michael, You agree with Obama !! Well, are we not just overjoyed with that........!!!!! How is your pal, "Vlad" ??

      Fred - 2012-03-08 08:39

      Without doubt, the civilians, women and children who are being butchered would give you the bird and moon you so desperately deserve.

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